Monthly Archives: February 2013

Thank you, Miguel

    I never meant to have help in my yard on the weeding or trimming, even though it’s a big yard. In the first nine years I could do it all with my husband’s help and even more importantly my father’s. Yes, my parents lived with us here in California for ten years, and my father, the brilliant plantsman, who beyond his PhD in plant genetics always understood what a plant wanted, from the first shift of a cotyledon. That was a great time for all of us and all the plants.
      I ran a homework group for many years and then daughter and myself took on tutoring of a couple of English as a second language students. This went on for years, and during it, one of the parents, who I’ll call Miguel, decided that he had to make the equation equal. So he’d turn up, and for the time in which we tutored his daughter, he’d burn through work that needed doing on the property like a man possessed. I thought I was a good worker, but he sure put me to shame.
     But when his daughter graduated he still showed up, so I told him he had to accept pay or I wouldn’t let him work. That’s how I acquired help in the garden.

       Last week he found something, and quietly left it at my door. A battered old gold watch with a broken wrist band. Dirt mashed into every crevice. I tried winding it and it sprang to life.
       I know that watch. It’s the old broken banded one my father would carry about with him, (rather funny for of all the people I ever knew who disregarded time he is foremost.) Being a good New England farmer at heart he wouldn’t buy a new band, oh no. It was fine with him to simply lay it down among the weeds he was pulling, then perhaps have some trouble finding it again or forget it where it lay, picking it up a day or so later. That watch had adventures especially since my father weeded gardens all over the neighborhood for about half a mile in all directions. Anyone willing to smile back and let him have his way, would have free weeding and plant expertise. So it’s a miracle the watch ended up in our own yard, not mashed under a lawnmower somewere far away. It’s another that Miguel’s keen eye caught the gleam of gold among the roots and mud.
    That watch lies ticking away on my kitchen counter now. I wound it a couple of days ago and it’s still keeping good time. Cheerful old battered thing with deep lines across its face, like an old friend. The last time my father weeded in my yard was in the autumn of 2006. You do the math.
     Thank you Miguel.


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sounds in the night

I wake when I hear it, heart already leaping, eyes wide. Not any sound, but a sound with intent. A dragging that stops then begins again, as though whatever is out there wants me to think this isn’t serious, it’s random. But I hear– I cannot see, yet I know better. 

This is when everything depends on choice. Covers pulled over the head, or slide out of bed? Pat  husband awake — but if I do that he’s going to make noise and I won’t be able to hear what’s really going on. We’ll both be targets then.

I slide out, slip my glasses onto my cold face, push the blankets so husband won’t wake at the draft. Feels better to be on my feet, not trapped, not predictable. Cold winter floor, fuzz of carpet and I move breathing through my mouth for silence, out the door, down the corridor, pause sidled up to the wall so I make no profile in the doorway to the main room. Wait, let eyes accustom. The shapes of furniture I picked gain strange qualities in the gloom. No moonlight, only the spark of stars far beyond the glass of chilly windows.

And there’s something moving.

Not human. Low, bulky, unrecognizable shape. Deliberate, slow, and heading straight to where I stand. My brain tumbles, reassembles a recognition.

Damned cat. Cat dragging husband’s vest like prey across the carpet. front leg to either side so he can wrangle the bulk. He drops it at my feet and raises his head, cat jaws open in a silent precise mew.

Husband’s sleep-slurred voice from the bedroom…

“Everything all right?”

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Tomatoes and Okra

Tomatoes and Okra

A woman in Dugbe Market near Ogbomosho arranges produce for sale. This is a detail of a larger painting.


February 7, 2013 · 4:35 am

A Bad Movie

I’ve been told one of my all-time favorite movies is a bad movie. Maybe it’s true. It all depends on what a person goes to the movie to find.

“The Man in the Iron Mask”, with Gabriel Byrne as D’Artagnan, Jeremy Irons as Aramis, Gerard Depardiu as Porthos and Leonardo DiCaprio as the young royalty, (and man, can he be creepy when he wants to,) can make me tear up even on my tenth or eleventh viewing. I’m willing to dismiss the roles I consider badly played, woodenly unimaginative, for the sake of the actors mentioned here. Over the top, overwhelming score, full of redemption and old-fashioned romance, this movie still hits me where it counts. Where it hurts, where memories are made.

When I sit down and give myself over to a movie I want to be moved by what I witness. I want this experience to matter. Viscerally. I think of myself as a witness, and I want to leave altered in some good way. I use that word deliberately, loaded though it is. ‘Good.”

I said to a younger friend the other day “The only company you’re guaranteed for life is your own, so make sure it’s good company.”

So even in forking over the cash to buy a movie ticket, my real purpose is to make my own company better, whether that means putting into my brain visions that will inspire creative effort, or compassionate thought, or ways of thinking about problems with new depth.

The title for this blog bit is “A Bad Movie.” But I’ll argue that any movie that enriches my own company has to be a good movie, that sentiment can be well-placed and powerful. A dangerous statement since I hope my own writing will never be dismissed with the word “sentimental.”

 Just remember, ‘sentiment’ is not the same as ‘sentimental’.

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